Don’t Negate God’s Word with Traditions

Matthew 15:1-20

Jerry A Collins




²                 What is so bad about keeping traditions made by men?

²                 What is significant about the issues of cleanness and unclean?

²                 Why is tradition-keeping a waste of time?


Keeping religious traditions of men is a staple of West Michigan Christianity. It is the kind of tradition keeping that carries authority behind it—authority that can be claimed to be sinned against. As if these traditions carry the same weight as the Word of God does. Whether it is how you appear when attending a Christian meeting; or the posture you use when you pray; or how and if and when you have Bible devotions; or if you use a proper translation of the Bible; we fuss and fume over our traditions that seem as valid to us as the Word of God. And we can appear so pious, so righteous but have a heart and will and spirit which are far from God.  Mere externals never cut it with God. Jesus said so. The religious elite in Jesus’ day were guilty of the same kind of West Michigan Tradition keeping of men and Jesus had it out with them. The outcome is relevant to the tradition keeping brand still around today.

Observation       15:1-9


The Issue 1-2 Pharisees and scribes travel from Jerusalem—so they carry some authority behind them. These are the best trained and highly respected teachers in Israel. They seem to be zealous enough about their cause to travel so far. Their arrival produces the most direct confrontation and personal attack Jesus endures. Mark fleshes out the scene a bit more that Matthew in MK 7:1-3 where he explains the religious tradition of ceremonial washing that is debated here. Matthew may be zeroing in on the most critical one.

The Accusation 2 The disciples of Jesus constantly and habitually transgress their traditions. That is, the volume of commentary added to the law they regarded as of equal importance with the Law—1st transmitted orally and then codified in the Mishnah. The accusation is serious since they claim the disciples have sinned by doing this. This means the traditions of men have been elevated to the status of Scripture. The particular sin is failing to observe the custom of hand washing whenever they ate which was often. Ceremonial cleansing issues are also in Lk 11:37-44. A big issue with these.

The Rebuke 3-9 (1) Jesus puts the issue back onto them vs 3. Actually they were the sinners not Jesus disciples. They are the sinners because they had broken God’s commandments not just the teaching of traditions of men. God’s commandments carry weight—man’s does not. (2) Jesus presses His point with a specific and relevant example in vs 4-6. They are actually manipulating the Law of God with their traditions to get and have what they want and still appear righteous. They could use their tradition to get around the law of God. Jesus quotes from Ex 20:12 & 21:17 in vs 4. Honor your parents and do not curse them by announcing Korban in vs 5. This results in dishonor to your parents vs 6. The idea is this—if you are greedy and do not want to support your aging parents (honor them) you could freeze the money you would use to care for them by dedicating it to God (announcing Korban). So you could use this tradition—actually a misuse of the concept from Leviticus for bringing something near to God—to get out of taking care of dad and mom, which the Law actually required you to do. Then they might find a way to nullify the vow and keep the money. The net result: you invalidate (null and void) the Word of God for the sake of your tradition. (A clever tradition of swearing or taking oaths had grown up as a way around a clear teaching of the Word of God—Ross.) (3) Jesus calls them hypocrites vs 7 and their tactics worthless vs 9. First, their hypocrisy fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy 29:13. By quoting it this generation was doing the same as Isaiah’s. The Jews religion in both contexts was characterized by externals crowding out the truth and the heart vs 8. Second, their traditions were worthless with God vs 9. You can say the rite things, give rite impressions, follow the form without corresponding reality and not be obedient at all with a heart far from God’s. So their teaching has nothing of God’s authority behind it.


Why are traditions of men so maligned by Christ?

1. Concerned with keeping man’s rules rather than dealing with sin. You do not sin against traditions you sin against God and His Word.

2. Concerned for appearing righteous before men not being righteous before God. Misleads people into a proper understanding of what pleases God. Observation  15:10-14


Jesus gives 3 parables:

1. The obsession of the Pharisees—that which entered one’s mouth possibly ritually unclean—failed to realize the real defilement was what came out—that is, sin in the heart vs 11. Rigid outward rituals missing connection with sin was a waste of time. Harboring sin-like hatred and murder of Jesus—and washing hands ritually was hypocritical. The source of uncleanness was not outward defilements like discharges, contaminations, and diseases but originated in the human heart. The disciples worried Jesus was too hard on these teachers in vs 12 but Jesus wants to be clear on the unreliability of their teaching and does so.

2. Jesus answers in vs 13 with image of plants being rooted up meaning these false teachers are not sent nor commissioned by God.

3. They are blind themselves vs 14, leading people away from Christ because they failed to understand the Scripture they claimed to teach. Majoring on externals they were missing the reality.


Tradition keeping may major on the minors but the greater rebuke is that it says, thus saith the Lord when He has not spoken. It misses the issue being sin not conformity. 

Observation  15:15-20


Staggered 15-16: Explain the parable, Peter asks vs 15. So, Jesus explains the first parable. Before He does that, He told them they should have already understood it. Jesus response Are you so dull heightens their failure to comprehend and reveals their faith still needing to develop.

Explanation 17-20: What defiles a person is not what they eat and pass into a latrine vs 17. The real issue is not what enters the mouth but what comes out because that comes from the heart vs 18. The point is what actually brings defilement into the life? It is easier to focus on external man made rituals and miss the spiritual reality behind them. The defilements are evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders vs 19. These things are what defile us vs 20. Eating with unwashed hands cannot defile you. It is the inside not the outside that needs cleaning. Developing righteousness happens when a heart is transformed not when hands are washed. Washing hands is insignificant when a heart needs to be cleansed. The Pharisees prevented this by replacing forgiveness with rituals for the people.


1. If a heart is not changed; a life is not changed. People can participate in any religious rituals they choose but have no repentant heart. Unbelievers can appear devout but ritual without reality is vain. This can only begin with forgiveness and cleansing from Christ. Believers can perform but God sees through the mere rituals you keep and they mean nothing without corresponding heart for God.

2. Traditions can crowd out truth. Man made rules about service protocol, sets of rules for holiness can replace what the Word of God actually says about these.